Kathleen Rago (left), a resident of Nativity B.V.M. Place, receives a blood pressure screening from medical assistant Alex Zappa at an Aug. 12 wellness fair. The 63-unit residence is one of four archdiocesan housing communities that offer seniors affordable apartment living with a range of social support services. (Photo by Gina Christian)

As students prepare for a new school year, senior citizens in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia got a jump start on an important exam that many older adults fail to take.

Some 25 residents of Nativity B.V.M. Place completed their Medicare health risk assessments as part of an Aug. 12 wellness fair at the senior residence, which is operated by archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS).


Located in the former Nativity B.V.M. parish school, the 63-unit residence is one of four CHCS housing communities that offer seniors affordable apartment living with a range of social support services.

The health risk assessment, which is a key part of Medicare’s annual wellness visit, contains a detailed series of questions regarding an individual’s medical history, nutrition, physical ability, cognitive functions and lifestyle risk factors.

The survey also tracks the client’s use of pain medication to alert physicians to possible opioid use disorder (OUD), a growing problem among seniors. According to one study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, first-time treatment admissions for OUD have doubled since 2007 for adults aged 55 and older.

Dr. Arthur Metzler, a Philadelphia-area cardiologist, reviewed Medicare health assessments during an Aug. 12 senior wellness fair at Nativity B.V.M. Place, one of four archdiocesan senior residences. (Gina Christian)

Dr. Arthur Meltzer, who supervised the wellness fair, pointed out that the Medicare health risk assessment is often “very poorly administered,” with “less than five percent of the overall population aged 65 and up” completing the questionnaire.

“It takes about 15 to 20 minutes per patient, and physicians’ offices just can’t do it,” said Meltzer, a cardiologist with Bala Cardiovascular Consultants in Bala Cynwyd. “Staff are so time-constrained by the realities of having a general medical practice that very few people go through the full questionnaire.”

Meltzer and his team reviewed the residents’ responses, and then performed additional screening — checking for issues with blood pressure, blood clots and abdominal aneurisms — with an on-site ultrasound machine.


Following the exams, Meltzer and his team will prepare a summary of each client’s responses, which the seniors can then take to their primary care doctors.

Resident Regina McGinley said the wellness fair provided both “peace of mind and convenience.”

“It’s a chance to make sure you’re taking your medications correctly and seeing your doctor,” she said, adding that the fair also served as a chance for the seniors to socialize and catch up with each other while waiting to be seen.

Kristi Bennett, social services coordinator for Nativity Place, said having the health assessment in a familiar environment helped to make participants more comfortable.

“Some of the residents had actually attended the parish school when it was in this building,” said Bennett, who also heads up social services at CHCS’s St. Francis Villa. “And they’re excited to relive that era of their lives, but in a new way, now that it’s a senior residence.”